In the sport of NASCAR, there are names that have become synonymous with the word success. These are the names you all know and remember, including the likes of Petty, Earnhardt, and Johnson just to name a few. These titans of the sport set the bar for what one can become through hard work, passion, and determination. Many of NASCAR’s new wave of young drivers hope to conquer this dream, with one hopeful, in particular, being NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Christian Eckes. I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to the rising star of Thorsport, about his humble beginnings and where he hopes to take them.
Christian D. Eckes was born on November 10th, 2000 in Middletown, New York to George and Darlene Eckes. He was bitten by the racing bug early on in his life, after seeing his father’s friend race a modified car at Bethel Motor Speedway, and racing go-karts in his family’s backyard only pushed his desire for speed further. “I always liked to go fast,” he put it to me simply, which was enough for his parents to buy him a Bandolero car at the age of nine. Although at first, he wasn’t exactly a racing prodigy, over time he developed a pretty good place behind the wheel, “it was a struggle. I won’t lie, I was awful! But more experience helped.” Christian continued to race in Bandoleros for the next few years until he made the shift over to Legends cars at the age of 13.
In Legends cars, Christian’s potential really shined through and carried on further as he moved on to racing late models by the age of fifteen. His talent even managed to catch the attention of big names such as Levine Family Racing and even JR Motorsports, landing him the opportunity as a development driver. “It meant a lot to me, to have them recognize my potential,” Christian told me reflecting back, “I was always a huge NASCAR fan, and the name Earnhardt is pretty synonymous with NASCAR.”
Success in late models continued on for a sixteen-year-old Eckes, as he would go on to win late model races at Myrtle Beach Speedway as well as Southern National Motorsports Park. His biggest win would come though at Five Flags Speedway, where he would outrun John Hunter Nemechek to become the second-youngest winner of the Snowball Derby. He attributes the win to really pushing his career into the direction that landed him where he is today, as he would make his ARCA Series debut that same year. In April of 2016, Christian would make his ARCA Series debut at Nashville Fairgrounds for Venturini Motorsports, a team he would stay with the entirety of his ARCA career. A four-race deal with Veturnini in 2016, expanded to a nine-race deal in 2017, which further expanded once more to a fifteen-race deal in 2018. His first win in ARCA came that year at Salem where he held off teammate Chandler Smith to do so. He capped off his 2018 season with three wins. His initial win at Salem, however, led to a four-race deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driving the #46, starting at Iowa. Furthermore, his success with Veturnin that season, led to a full-time season with the team in 2019, driving the #15.
Christian’s 2019 season proved to be his most successful to date, as he would go on to win four races and would finish 17 times in the top ten out of a 20 race schedule. Based on his wins and consistency, Christian would ultimately be crowned the 2019 ARCA Series champion. Beyond that, Christian would run six more races for Kyle Busch Motorsports and garnered not one, not two, but three-pole awards, securing himself a full-time ride in the #18 Safelite AutoGlass Toyota Tundra for the 2020 season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, causing him to say goodbye to long journey at Venturini Motorsports, “it was definitely special. We had to make a lot of hard decisions, there were highs and lows, but our team was strong enough to bounce back.”
Christian’s first full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series proved to be one of ups and downs, with a win escaping him on multiple occasions. One such occasion included the fall race at Texas Motor Speedway, after a late-race run-in with Ben Rhodes, where Eckes infamously showed his displeasure by flipping off the man who would later become his teammate, “I still give him crap for it,” He told me with a subtle chuckle, “ at the end of the day though it is what it is.” However, the season was one that was not without its share of bright shining moments, including ten top-ten finishes as well as an eighth-place points standing finish. Despite all this though, it was not enough to keep him for another year at Kyle Busch Motorsports, which Christian places the blame on himself for, “ a lot of things went wrong, there were other factors, but I look back at what I could have done. I think there were a lot of missed opportunities… it kinda keeps me up at night.”
It was after Talladega that Eckes would officially find out that he would not be returning to Kyle Busch Motorsports for the 2021 season, and he began to “scramble”- as he put it – for a ride. He talked to multiple different teams, but nothing seemed to work out, even when it felt like things would for him, “ I actually had a full-time ride lined up, but it didn’t work out.” By mid-January, Christian still had no idea what his 2021 plans would be with NASCAR, and without any ride lined up, he began to have his doubts, “ I was starting to think maybe it’s time for plan-B.” That was until Duke Thorson called him, and presented him with an opportunity to run a part-time schedule for Thorsport in 2021.
Christian Eckes was signed on to a part-time schedule for the 2021 season, splitting a ride with Grant Enfinger, driving the #98. The move was one that was questioned by many fans, considering that Enfinger was arguably the team’s most successful driver, and it was a decision even Eckes himself couldn’t quite explain, “I don’t really know honestly. I try to stay out of that stuff, but at the end of the day, Grant and I both had the same feeling. We had a bit of a chip on our shoulder, only being able to run part-time, but that made us push each other.” Across nine races that Christian would run that year, he proved to have the talent and skill, that demanded a full-time ride. It was one performance, in particular, however, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, that really showed just how badly Christian still had a lot to prove as a racer.
Just a week prior, Chandler Smith, a former teammate of Eckes and the very driver who would take over his former ride at Kyle Busch Motorsports, got his first win at Bristol Motor Speedway. After this the pressure to prove himself was only amplified, “Chandler’s win really lit a fire under my ass,” He told me quite simply. With newfound motivation, Christian went into the race at Las Vegas with a head full of steam and a good feeling. They had brought a brand new truck with them, and in the back of his mind Christian just knew, “something good was gonna happen.” And something good did happen, as Christian Eckes would go on to win his very first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race that night, with his three teammates finishing behind him in second, third, and fourth. When I asked Christian to tell me the feeling he felt in the moment, you could still hear the relief of it all in his voice, “it was emotional. A weight really came off my shoulders. I know it sounds silly, but when they say winning changes everything… it really does change everything.”
Eckes closed out his 2021 season with one win, and five top-ten finishes across a nine-race schedule. Based on this, as well as the announcement that Grant Enfinger would be moving on to Petty GMS Racing the following season, it seemed as though Eckes would be the prime candidate to run full time in the #98 truck for 2022. At the time we spoke however, no official announcement had yet to be made, and Christian wouldn’t budge on giving any details, “ I can’t give you anything just yet, but I feel pretty confident.” And just a short time after our conversation, it was officially announced that Christian would be returning to Thorsport full-time in 2022, driving the #98. “The best career move I could make was to be in something I can win in, and I know I can win with them.”
Every young driver dreams of following in the footsteps of the greats before them, with Christian Eckes being no exception. The bright 21-year-old has set himself on the right path to do just that, but no matter where he ends up, Christian seems to be happy with wherever things take him, “ at the end of the day, I just wanna race, have fun, and be successful.” It’s safe to say that whether or not Christian Eckes adds himself to the list of greats, he’s just happy to be a part of the conversation.
Featured image credits to @christianeckes on Twitter.